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Apple shares break the $500 barrier

The Mac and iPhone maker closes at %502.60, an all-time high for the company. Goldman Sachs says it believes Apple could rise to $550 a share in the next 12 months.

Apple's stock surpassed $500 a share today, reaching an all-time high and prompting many investors to wonder just how high the company's shares can go.

At their height this morning, Apple's shares reached $503.83 before falling to about $499. Throughout the day, the company's stock flirted with the $500-a-share mark before finally ending the day at $502.60.

In after-hours trading, the company's stock is up to $502.93. Apple's market capitalization currently stands at $468.6 billion, making it the most valuable company in the world.

Although hitting $500 a share means little in the long run, it marks the first time Apple's stock has risen that high. Over the past decade, Apple shares are up nearly 4,056 percent, and approximately 500 percent in the past five years. In the past year alone, Apple's stock is up nearly 40 percent. Last week, Apple's shares came close to hitting $500, rising to $493.17.

The company's meteoric rise is due mainly to the success of its mobile products, including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, and its ability to generate huge margins. During its fiscal first quarter, which included the three-month period ended December 31, Apple posted its best quarter yet, generating $46.33 billion in revenue and a $13.06 billion profit. It ended the quarter with over $97 billion in cash on hand.

That success, coupled with expectations of the iPad 3, iPhone 5, and HDTV launches this year, has pushed Apple's average 12-month target price--determined by averaging the target prices assigned to Apple's shares by 54 analysts--to $579.69. Goldman Sachs, one of the leading global investment banks, believes Apple could rise to $550 a share within the next 12 months.

Update 1:10 p.m. PT to include Apple's closing price.